For the past 12 years the world has been watching the progress of Iran's nuclear program. Its ultimate aim is to attain nuclear weaponry and is supported by a growing arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles. Step by step Iran has progressed over the years, seemingly determined to reach its goal. So what is going to happen next? Can the Iranians still be stopped, and if so by what means? Although there may be disagreements here and there - in Jerusalem, Washington, D.C. and the capitals of Europe - there is agreement on four important points:
1. Iran is working actively to obtain nuclear weapons. Whatever doubts existed on this matter over the years have been dispelled.
2. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian ayatollahs represents a danger to the world. Although repeated Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth have created the impression that it is only Israel that would be endangered by an Iranian nuclear weapon, it is now recognized that a nuclear Iran would spell danger to the entire world.
3. The use of economic sanctions to convince the Iranians to end their nuclear weapons project is far preferable to the use of military force to achieve this aim.
4. It is pretty late in the game. A lot of time slipped by while the very existence of the Iranian nuclear bomb project was being debated, and more time while attempts were being made to convince the Iranians that it was in their best interests to abandon the program. All this time, the project advanced. Now it is clear that they are close to achieving their goal and there is little time left to take effective action.
There are two major villains in this extended drama. Firstly, Mohamed ElBaradei, who served three terms (1997-2009 ) as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ), the international organization charged with the task of inhibiting the use of nuclear energy for military purposes. During his tenure he repeatedly downplayed claims of any possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 2005. Only after he was replaced at the IAEA by Yukiya Amano has the alarm been raised.
Secondly, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report in 2007 claiming that Iran had halted its drive toward building an atom bomb in 2003. The basis or purpose for this patently wrong estimate was never made clear. But it brought about a relaxation in the international effort to halt Iran's atomic bomb project.
On entering the White House in 2009, President Barack Obama extended his hand to the Iranian rulers, hoping to engage them in negotiations that would put an end to their nuclear ambitions. Effective sanctions against the Iranian regime have only been imposed by a good part of the international community during the past few months. Are they going to be sufficient, and have they come in time? That is the question engaging the heads of government in Jerusalem, Washington and the capitals of Europe.
The military option - the one that has been "on the table" for the past few years - is still there, and is obviously problematic in light of the consequences that are likely to follow (some of which are in the realm of the unknown ). But there is no doubt that a military strike would set back Iran's nuclear project significantly.
It may come as a surprise to some that, at this time, there are only two countries in the world with the military capability to carry out an effective military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. They are the U.S. and Israel. There may not be any country able to deal effectively with an Iranian state in possession of nuclear weapons.
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